Choice/Abortion

Roe v. Wade is the definitive law guaranteeing a woman’s right to choose. That choice is an intensely private, often difficult one. It should be made in consultation with a knowledgeable, board-certified physician and without coercion of any kind.

To reduce the number of abortions performed, we should not reduce access to a legal medical procedure. Instead, we should reduce unwanted pregnancies by fully supporting those who choose to bring a baby to term. Specifically, we should:

• Equip sexually-active people to make informed choices prior to conception,
• Offer sex education and access to sexual health information,
• Ensure affordable/readily-available contraception,
• Guarantee “morning after” pill accessibility,
• Offer adoption placement incentives, and
• Protect vital government supports such as WIC, Head Start & quality public education.

We should also commit ourselves, as a nation, to care for and about unplanned/unwanted children – not just until they are born, but for a lifetime.

Citizens United & Campaign Finance

Corporations are not people, and money is not speech. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision to the contrary profoundly altered the dynamics of the electoral system – for the worse. Now, corporations can powerfully influence – and even bully — candidates and legislators with massive contributions to PACs, political parties, issue groups, and political opponents.

By removing limits on contributions, the Supreme Court changed the rules in favor of the very wealthy – who may or may not share the national majority view on any given issue. I agree with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that “by having these limits [on contributions], you are promoting democratic participation. Then the little people will count some and you won’t have the super-affluent as the speakers that will control the elections.”

It will be difficult for Congress to listen to and carry out the will of the people as long as wealthy corporations and deep-pocketed individuals are able to buy “free speech rights” that most Americans cannot. I support campaign finance reform that will level the playing field for both citizens and candidates — and specifically support the bill H.R. 20, known as the “Government by the People Act of 2014.”

Deficit Reduction & the Debt

The deficit has been cut nearly in half over the past four years – despite the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and the enormous costs of a Wall Street bailout, the war in Iraq, and continued tax breaks for America’s wealthiest individuals and corporations.

We continue to dig out of a long, difficult recession, and we must not put our economic recovery in jeopardy with draconian budget cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and other key programs. Our most fundamental values as Americans dictate that we do not deny protection to the most vulnerable members of our society. So, we do not balance the budget at the expense of our children, our senior citizens, or Americans who are working hard to meet their family’s basic needs.

Instead, we should enact tax reform that eliminates deductions, loopholes and giveaways that unfairly favor those with wealth, power and influence. We should level the playing field so that our tax laws treat Main Street as well as Wall Street. And, we should develop a strategy for reviving and protecting America’s middle class. More middle-class jobs mean lower unemployment costs (both direct and indirect), as well as greater tax revenue – both of which help reduce our nation’s debt.

Education

To strengthen our nation’s global economic competitiveness, we must equip our children with an excellent education. We must turn around failing schools, invest in early learning, encourage significant family involvement, support underpaid and overextended teachers, help low- and middle-income families save for college, and shift our focus from teaching-to-the-test to teaching for learning’s sake.

International test scores show American students falling behind their counterparts from Europe and Asia in reading, math and science skills. This is our wake-up call. We must invest in STEM teaching and learning. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics will be form a critical skill set for the next generation. We must also leverage Internet-based learning to make education more accessible, engaging and affordable.

As we work to make these changes and improvements, we must beware of calls to privatize public education in a for-profit business model — treating education as a business opportunity, rather than the foundation for our children’s future. Privatization separates our children’s education from the communities that pay for it, which raises concerns about accountability. In addition, any system that makes educational quality dependent on family income undermines the American ideal of equal opportunity for all.

Energy Policy and the Environment

Human beings are healthier in an environment of clean air and clean water. And, we know that human activity can directly impact its surrounding environment. So, the scientific argument for environmental protection laws is clear. The need for these protections has become a worldwide issue as greenhouse gas emissions have accelerated climate changes that threaten both our safety and our economy.

The debate over global warming is driven primarily by those who equate freedom to pollute with greater profits. We must sidestep that distraction and find a healthy balance between economic interests and stewardship of our environment. We must reduce our carbon footprint and push our global competitors to do the same. Intelligent environmental rules, appropriately enforced, ensure that economic opportunity and individual freedom are not compromised by degrading the environment that is essential to our survival.

As we seek clean(er) energy alternatives, we must combine the urgent need for innovation with the need for continued economic growth and job creation/protection. To that end, we must explore measures to further reduce emissions (beyond cap and trade), and invest in clean energy alternatives like wind, solar and biofuels. I support incentives for businesses willing to invest in clean energy manufacturing.

I do not support the Keystone XL pipeline for many reasons: building this pipeline would create a false sense of security with the energy status quo, it would reduce the sense of urgency to explore and invest in alternate energy sources, it would open the door to foreseeable environmental disaster, and it would have little or no impact on our nation’s oil prices or supplies — not to mention the fact that it would generate more carbon emissions. As for fracking, I do not support financial incentives or safety exemptions given significant concerns about its risks, especially to our water supply.

Guns & Background Checks

School shootings and workplace assaults, combined with state-level “guns everywhere” initiatives, are pitting Americans’ right to life and liberty against an extreme interpretation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. The gun lobby has manufactured a crisis by declaring efforts to ensure safety in public venues a threat to gun-owning citizens. They’re wrong.

I support the entire Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment right to bear arms. With that right come responsibilities. Among them are (1) the responsibility to use guns solely for appropriate recreation or legitimate self-defense, and (2) the responsibility to ensure that no harm comes to another citizen as a result of that weapon’s illegal or inappropriate use.

To that end, I support all reasonable means of limiting access to guns by persons who have been identified as dangerous — whether or not they have been diagnosed with a mental disorder. I agree with a majority of Americans that background checks should be required for all gun purchases – regardless of venue. And I disagree with those who claim these safety precautions infringe on a citizen’s right to own a weapon. The ability to track a gun and/or its record of ownership is a valuable tool in the fight against gun violence.

Healthcare Reform/Affordable Care Act

As a physician, I feel strongly that every person has a right to accessible, affordable healthcare. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a significant step in the direction of healthcare for all. We are the last nation in the industrialized world to move toward this goal, and it’s long overdue.

Americans now have new rights – to free preventive care, guaranteed coverage despite a preexisting condition, no more annual or lifetime limits, and more – which dramatically reduce the financial worry associated with a family member’s illness. But, because Georgia’s governor declined $40 billion in federal funding (over the next decade) for Medicaid expansion, approximately 650,000 Georgians will remain uninsured. Meanwhile, Grady Hospital, the state’s primary “healthcare safety net,” is facing substantial cuts to staff and clinic services, and four hospitals in rural Georgia have been forced to close altogether.

I have taken a strong stand in support of ACA — and against Governor Deal and Insurance Commissioner Hudgens — because this law is a step in the direction of better healthcare for more Georgians. There are improvements that can and should be made to this legislation, but its basic premise is morally sound: healthcare should be a right for all Americans, not a privilege for some.

Immigration Reform

America’s immigration system is badly broken. There is a strong consensus (voiced most recently by the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) that we can and should act to reform that system – and do it now. I support that consensus. We must encourage the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows, comply with the law, pay fines and taxes, and integrate themselves fully into the life of our nation. At the same time, employment verification is vital to protecting American labor. The widespread hiring of undocumented labor at substandard wages and working conditions must be outlawed (and the law enforced) so that all workers compete for employment solely on the basis of effort and ability.

We must establish an efficient and predictable pathway for legal immigration that integrates border security, clears the backlog of immigrants awaiting green cards, and ensures our immigration detention and court systems are both fair and humane. Considering how broken our immigration system is now, these would be huge steps in the direction of a modern, effective system that reflects our values and makes our nation — and our workforce — stronger.

Jobs

Middle-income workers are increasingly being pushed into lower-wage jobs. Many of them displace less-skilled, lower-income workers, who become unemployed or are forced to work fewer hours. Rates of unemployment for the lowest-income families – those earning less than $20K per year – have recently topped 21%, nearly matching the rate for all workers during the 1930s Great Depression.
This trend is dangerous and cannot continue.

My background in economics and finance tells me that job creation is the engine that will revive our nation after the Great Recession, restore the disappearing middle class, and propel us toward a future in which the American Dream is once again within everyone’s reach.

We must invest in education (particularly STEM), high-tech manufacturing, clean energy and repairing/augmenting America’s infrastructure (i.e. roads, railways, bridges, etc). To that end:

• I support the rapid expansion of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other forms of free/affordable education that can equip the workforce;
• I support programs and businesses that train workers in IT, high-tech manufacturing, and transportation, thereby enhancing their productivity as well as our nation’s global competitiveness;
• I endorse incentives for companies that bring jobs back to the U.S. and hire American workers, and I support eliminating the tax incentives for companies that send jobs overseas;
• I support investment in clean energy and infrastructure, both of which create jobs that cannot be outsourced and pave the way for a better future.

Labor

Americans’ median income is less than it was 24 years ago, and 46.5 million Americans are living in poverty. In the 1950s, most workers supported their families with one job. Today, it often takes two or even three. In many families, both husband and wife must work, and frequently one of them has two jobs. Meanwhile, productivity has soared as workers create more wealth than ever before.
Where does the wealth go? Increasingly, to the CEOs and investors.

Meanwhile, America’s middle class is disappearing.

Increasingly, income inequality is pushing Americans into two extremes. The top 1% of American households has 38% of all American wealth, while the bottom 60% has 2.3% of it. From 2009-2012, 95% of all new income went to the top 1%. As a result, families at the edge of the middle class are steadily sliding toward poverty and away from the American Dream. Work and its rewards must be brought back into balance.

We begin with a living wage. There is no excuse for hunger, homelessness, or poverty among American workers today. The 15 million Americans who earn a minimum wage (only 12% of whom are teenagers) should be able to work a 40-hour week, rent an apartment and still put food on the table. “Right to Work” laws undermine this, and I am opposed to them for that reason. Labor unions give working people a collective voice at the bargaining table, and I support them for that reason.

LGBT & Marriage Equality

As a board-certified psychiatrist, I am confident that sexual orientation is genetically determined, not a matter of choice. As a result, I see no basis for judging, condemning or discriminating against a person in response to his/her sexual orientation. By extension, our government should not discriminate on the basis of a genetically-determined trait (be it race, ethnicity, sex, or sexual orientation). Attorneys General in several states have recently declined to enforce state laws against marriage equality due to their discriminatory nature, with the backing of the DOJ. I support their decisions.

Just as the rights and privileges associated with marriage were extended from same-race heterosexual couples to interracial heterosexual couples (in 1967), they should now extend further to include same-sex couples — of any race — who wish to make a legally-binding, lifelong commitment to one another.

As a Christian, I acknowledge every church’s right to accept or deny a government-authorized marriage as a sacrament. But I also agree with Pope Francis who, when asked about homosexuality, responded, “Who am I to judge?”

NSA vs. Privacy

We live in a country that affords us relative peace and safety, thanks to the efforts of our national security communities. That comfort comes at a price: periodic government intrusion into our lives. To protect individual freedoms, we must place reasonable limits on the NSA (and other national security organizations).

We must ensure that our desire to identify, thwart and prosecute terrorists does not needlessly infringe on the privacy and freedom of innocent citizens. Every national security agency must be accountable to the American people. We must ensure that the civil rights of all Americans are respected and protected by those in government who have taken an oath to serve. I add my voice to the call for rigorous oversight of any surveillance imposed upon American citizens and any data gathered as a result. And, I support the constitutionality of our nation’s privacy laws.

Syria, Ukraine & International Intervention

I strongly opposed bombing Syria when President Obama asked for Congressional approval to do so in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons on its own citizens (August 2013). Instead, I advocated for redoubled diplomatic efforts and a leadership role in an international humanitarian response to the exploding refugee crisis. Syria has begun to hand over chemical weapons for destruction, but I am concerned about their intent to cooperate fully given missed deadlines. We must continue to monitor and press for compliance, knowing that Russia may alter its stance given recent events in Ukraine.

I have watched the events in Ukraine with a wary eye. Russia’s Putin claims to be protecting rather than invading, but as a student of Russian history, I think he is eager to demonstrate strength — both to those who support him, and to those who do not. Having annexed Crimea, he welcomes the protests in East Ukraine as evidence of the people’s desire for Russian intervention. Meanwhile, Russian troops at the eastern border ratchet up the pressure on the people of Ukraine (and surrounding countries). I do not believe Putin wants war, but I am deeply concerned that he is willing to see how far he can go before bringing the world to the brink.

We cannot and should not be the world’s policeman. We must turn away from the temptation to consider wars-of-choice just because they can be executed “efficiently.” And, we must not confuse our egos with our rights or our international responsibilities. At the same time, we must remain vigilant (alert to both danger and opportunity) and prepared for rapid escalation of regional upheavals which threaten our nation’s security or global stability.

Most importantly, we must reclaim our position as an international model of democracy by acting in accordance with our ideals, always being accountable for our actions and their impact on other countries and their people.

Veterans’ Affairs

My 8/8/13 OpEd detailed my concern for our nation’s veterans and their mismanaged care in Atlanta’s VA. That editorial was an extension of ongoing efforts — through a nonprofit I founded — to call attention to veterans’ significant, growing, and largely unmet mental health needs. Those needs are the tip of the iceberg.

Our veterans have returned from extended deployments and combat to find their homes foreclosed, jobs scarce, and the American public largely oblivious to the heavy price our men and women in uniform have paid to protect their fellow Americans. Literally adding insult to injury, veterans’ disability benefits are delayed every time Congress forces a government shutdown. Our servicemen and women deserve better.

I will push to expand the current GI Bill to add greater education and training opportunities for unemployed veterans, support incentives for companies to employ disabled vets, back initiatives to end homelessness and unscrupulous foreclosure practices that affect veterans, support increased funding and greater oversight for veterans’ healthcare, and do everything possible to reduce wait times for vets in need of mental healthcare.

Voting Rights

In June 2013, the Supreme Court declared section 4 of The Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. That decision voided a rule that required certain states to get Justice Department approval before changing their election laws. Although section 5 was not struck down, it was effectively undermined by this decision.

The result? Several of the former preclearance states immediately adopted voting restrictions that will profoundly impact certain voters (e.g. minorities, college students, the elderly), including strict voter ID, decreased early voting periods, fewer polling places, and elimination of same-day registration. These attempts to disenfranchise groups of voters are an assault on constitutional rights. In our democracy, voting is a right — not a privilege.

I wholeheartedly support DOJ action to protect voter rights in the face of these attacks. And, I emphatically endorse the recently-proposed bipartisan preclearance (reinstatement) bill.